How to run a business without customers

What do you do when customers are no longer allowed in your store? We look at alternative ways for businesses to operate during lockdown, including repurposing your parking lot and using stores as fulfillment centers.


Just when businesses thought they’d survived the pandemic, a second wave is now rolling through. Many cities and nations are seeing new outbreaks and implementing local or citywide lockdowns and other quarantine measures, forcing businesses to change how they operate yet again.

An example of this is Melbourne, Australia which entered stage 4 lockdown recently following a resurgence in infection numbers. After initially seeming to have ‘beaten’ the virus back in June – recording two days of no new coronavirus cases – numbers jumped back into triple digits at the beginning of July and quickly rose.

Stage 4 restrictions have seen the closure of all non-essential businesses and further limits on people movements, including:

  • All educational facilities moving to remote learning
  • Restaurants and cafes operating under a takeaway or delivery model only
  • Limits to how far residents can travel from their home and for what purposes

With only essential stores such as grocery and drug stores allowed to remain open to customers, all other stores (including clothes shops, furniture suppliers and department stores) have had to pivot their business models in order to survive – again. 

For many businesses, moving to an online platform is the primary method to continue running their business. However this is being hampered by impacts to the local postal service, which is being overwhelmed by Christmas like package volumes while dealing with reduced flight capacity and forced reductions in its workforce. 

Although order fulfillment centers, warehouses, and distribution centers are all deemed essential businesses, many have been breeding grounds for the virus, resulting in either full or partial shut down of the services. Combined with the aforementioned delivery delays, stores are looking at alternatives to fulfill orders and get them to customers fast. 

One way is by repurposing closed stores as fulfillment centers. Shop staff, no longer needed to directly serve customers, are being utilized to fulfill orders directly from the shop floor. For many this is seen as a win-win, keeping staff employed and getting orders to customers quicker. Another bonus?  Ensuring stores don’t end up with a surplus of ‘last season’ wear when they reopen. Upon reopening after the first wave, many stores found that much of their stock – like clothes, shoes, and linen – was now out of season, requiring massive price reductions to rid the store of the stock and to make room for new season goods.

Some closed stores have been allowed to operate under a click and collect model, when consumers can’t wait for products to be delivered. These click and collect booths must sit outside of the store – customers are forbidden from setting foot in the store to collect – and collections may only be done by residents who live within a 5km (3 mile) radius of the store.  Alternatively, some businesses are also offering contactless drive-up click and collect – either via a drive through model or by delivering direct to cars.

Restaurants have also been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, either reduced to operating on a delivery and takeaway model only or having indoor seating severely restricted as government regulations enforce social distancing. But some cities have found a common approach to keep restaurants operating at near normal capacities: by embracing outdoor dining.

While some restaurants are lucky enough to already have an outside space, such a balcony or beer garden, others have made the use of less than obvious outside space to expand. With minimal traffic on the road or pedestrians on the sidewalks, some cities have allowed restaurants to transform parking lots into outside dining spaces, or have pedestrianized roads to cater for more tables.

For customers ordering takeaway, parking lots may also function as a waiting room – simply call the restaurant upon arrival, provide your licence plate number and have your meal delivered to you without the need to step foot inside.

Dinner in the parking lot: it’s the 2020 new norm.


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